Saturday, May 21, 2005

How arson is like WMD

In my day job as an economist I had reason to look into the colonial history of slavery in the northern US, and forty one minutes ago I realized that the incident of the 1741 New York slave insurrection proves false the notion that we are in a situation unique in history in that an individual may inflict great harm on a mass of people through a biological or radiological weapon.

For the impatient, the 1741 New York slave insurrection was a series of arsons that occurred while slavery was still legal in that colony. Like a biological weapon, fire only needs an initial spark to possibly destroy whole cities in times before plumbing. Like today, the possibility of widespread destruction caused by a single individual created a hateful rabid frenzy in desperate need of a witch hunt to quench its blood lust, resulting in a series of kangaroo court convictions of brown people and persecution of local intellectuals and non-conformists as well as a general crack down on the individual rights (of the poor, see below). Since this was a case of a short string of arsons, it is unlikely that there was any actual conspiracy, or that there was more then one person involved. The only evidence of an organization is the coerced testimony of the victims of the witch hunt.


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